7 Steps to a Performance Improvement Plan

Don’t some people need to be micromanaged?

Following my blog on micromanagement, I received a call from an executive, Cathy, who manages a small firm and who had recently hired a contract employee, Marilyn. While Marilyn has excellent skill sets, her performance and attendance has been inconsistent from the start. Cathy had spent considerable time reminding Marilyn of her responsibilities and found it necessary to monitor her progress on a daily basis. When Marilyn did complete her work, it was excellent and she was an asset to the firm. The problem was that Cathy couldn’t count on her.

One day, Marilyn didn’t show up, and Cathy was unable to locate her. Cathy was on the verge of terminating the working relationship, when she learned that Marilyn was suffering from some emotional and physical difficulties. Because Marilyn has the potential to provide an excellent work product, and because Cathy wanted to give her another chance following medical intervention, she called me to ask about supervising Marilyn going forward.

Cathy’s first question was, “Don’t you think this is an exception to the ‘no micromanaging’ rule?”

This isn’t an easy problem. Marilyn would need some help, that’s for sure, but I don’t agree that micromanaging her time and work will prove any more helpful now that some of the problems have been identified.

My first suggestion to Cathy was that she encourage Marilyn to fully recover from her health issues. Once Marilyn feels stable and able to return to work, Cathy can request that she provide medical clearance from her physician. This initial step encourages Marilyn to take charge of her own health first and help Cathy feel confident that Marilyn is ready to work again. Once that has been established, Cathy can begin a performance improvement plan.

Here are 7 basic steps she can follow to improve performance:

  1. Define the unacceptable behavior and performance
  2. Ask the employee open questions about her performance and listen while she responds
  3. Define what acceptable behavior and performance is
  4. Seek suggestions from the employee as to how she can improve
  5. Ask how you can help
  6. Get a commitment from the employee
  7. Have follow-up meetings on a regular pre-determined basis


There should be an end-date to this process, whereby both agree that, if significant performance isn’t seen, maybe this job isn’t a good fit for Marilyn.

[message type=”warning”]Micromanagement will not likely improve an employee’s performance, even in such extreme cases.[/message]

Clearly, Marilyn’s health problems were interfering with her ability to complete the work as expected. Once that has been addressed, however, it is essential that micromanagement not be a part of her continued employment. In fact, micromanagement will likely send a message that, even with medical clearance, Marilyn can’t be trusted to manage her work or attendance responsibilities.

The performance management plan can provide an opportunity to reverse that message by setting clear expectations and standards that, with follow-up support as agreed, the employee can monitor on her own. If success isn’t evident, maybe this just isn’t the right job for Marilyn. If Marilyn succeeds, as hoped, mutual trust will have been earned.

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